Both Democrats who want to challenge Scott Garrett for Congress in 2008 come from Bergen County, and neither wants to take sides in the war raging there between state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero.
Dennis Shulman, a rabbi and psychologist who's blind, officially announced his long shot candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the fifth district congressional seat today. Rather than pick a side in the Democratic war in Bergen, he said that his candidacy may be able to help mend it.
"I'm not coming down on either side," said Shulman during a conference call with reporters. "…As a psychologist who works with families and as a rabbi, I have a lot of experience trying to repair splits in families and people, and I'm hoping that this election will be an opportunity to repair some of the split not only between Democrats and Republicans but within the county as well as within the party."
While county organizations don't typically play a large role in congressional campaigns, 63% of the fifth congressional district's population lives in Bergen County, making it hard to ignore the political conflict that consumes the area. And Shulman wouldn't be the first politician to try to make nice between Ferriero and Weinberg – the Governor did so last spring, only to see the truce come crashing down last month after Weinberg announced a campaign to reform "shadow governments," sparking a war of words and press releases between the two sides.
"Is the Governor a family therapist? I don't think so," joked Shulman, who said that he hopes that Weinberg and Ferriero will be able to at least unite behind his campaign. "I would hope that would have some weight, but when you ask the technique to repair the damage, I haven't thought that through because I haven't met with the principals involved."
Shulman's likely opponent for the Democratic nomination, Camille Abate, who lost the 2006 primary against Paul Staurt Aronsohn, said that she hasn't kept close tabs on the county fight because the Bergen County Democratic Organization, which focuses mainly on municipal, county and legislative races, won't have much of a role in her congressional campaign.
"I know that Joe is the head of the Bergen county organization, and I know Loretta is a respected member of the party," said Abate. "I'm sure that they all have on good faith a situation where they believe in different things, which happens between decent people sometimes.. I don't really have a stance on that. My focus has really been to beat Scott Garrett."
Meanwhile, both candidates know that they face long odds in challenging Garrett, but both say it's more than possible.
Shulman said that he anticipates needing to raise about $2 million to defeat Garrett, who spent over $1 million to get re-elected in 2006, a race not considered competitive. So far, Shulman said, he's raised about $50,000, and is trying to get the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee interested in the district.
Shulman declined to say what he thinks of Abate, and insisted that his candidacy would not focus exclusively on Bergen County. Instead, he said, he'll be able to draw votes from the district's small part of Passaic County, as well as Sussex and Warren. He was even joined on the conference call by the last county-wide elected Sussex County Democrat elected, Howard Burrell.
Shulman went on to say that he doesn't think his unique status as a blind rabbi and psychologist will be used as a campaign gimmick, but rather a strength.
"It's not a gimmick. It's what led me to take the step I'm taking now," said Shulman.